Sadao Nakagawa, a former Japanese military pilot who claims to have shot down many enemy planes in the war, lives in destitution in the Republic of Kalmykiya in southern Russia without a Japanese veterans’ pension.

Nakagawa, 82, is fighting an uphill battle to get official recognition that he is Japanese and eligible to receive a pension.

Nakagawa’s only income is the 800 rubles (about 3,200 yen) he receives every month as a pension from the Russian government.

“He is the poorest of all in our poor village,” a neighbor said.

Toshimasa Meguro, another Japanese in a similar situation, tried to win confirmation of his Japanese nationality in October 1997 when Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto held a summit in Krasnoyarsk, eastern Siberia.

Japanese officials brushed him off. Nakagawa and Meguro, 81, who lives in Krasnoyarsk, were among some 600,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians taken prisoner or detained in the former Soviet Union and Mongolia after the end of the war in 1945. Few of them are still alive.

The presence of the former POWs in Russia became well-known only half a century after the end of the war.

It took Meguro nearly a year before the Sapporo Family Court restored his family register and recognized him as Japanese. In the meantime, he was unable to make a trip home to Japan and his elder sister died in February 1998.

Nakagawa and his supporters say he was born Feb. 25, 1919, on the outskirts of Tokyo. His family moved several times, including to Nakashibetsu in Hokkaido and Yamagata, before he graduated from a military school in Tokyo.

As a fighter pilot, he shot down enemy planes around the Philippines and received three medals. Subsequently, Nakagawa, his wife and their children moved to Sakhalin, and were there when the war ended.

His supporters have asked the Japanese government to recognize his nationality and grant him a pension. But government officials say they have found no record of his name.

Yoichi Ogawa, secretary general of a Tokyo-based association that forges links with Japanese on Sakhalin and has supported Meguro’s efforts, said the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry always asks for identification papers or family registers whenever former Japanese POWs such as Nakagawa apply for government confirmation of their identities as Japanese.

“There’s no way for those taken prisoner to possess identification papers,” Ogawa said.

“The government maintains diplomatic missions but shows no willingness to dispatch officials to interview those who remain (in Russia). That’s (the attitude of) Japanese government offices.”

The association said many aging former Japanese prisoners are dying while officials adopt a bureaucratic approach when dealing with their problems.

“I cannot help but think that the government is waiting for aging Japanese in Russia to die in maintaining its stance of refusing to recognize their family registers,” Ogawa said.

He pointed out that his relatives and high school classmates could have verified Meguro’s Japanese nationality.

An 82-year-old man unable to make a trip to Japan has reportedly committed suicide in Krasnoyarsk. There are said to be numerous cases of this kind.

“This is the way (Japanese officials cope with) the human rights issues involving (former Japanese POWs still in Russia),” Ogawa said.

He said he thought it was a matter of course — given this mentality — for Japanese bureaucrats not to protect five North Korean asylum seekers who recently barged into the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, China, and were removed by Chinese police.

Nakagawa’s presence in Kalmykiya was publicized after Hitotsubashi University graduate student Yasuyuki Arai learned of him while studying there a year ago.

He introduced Nakagawa to Midori Yamada, branch manager of the Ikenobo school of flower arrangement in the Commonwealth of Independent States who visited Kalmykiya to promote the art of flower arrangement.

Yamada quizzed the Japanese Embassy in Moscow in March last year over Nakagawa’s identity and the possibility of his receiving a pension. The embassy official in charge said his name did not feature on military records.

The embassy does not appear to be ready to interview him or take any other action.

Nakagawa has several scars on his stomach, signifying his attempts to commit hara-kiri rather than face what he and other members of the wartime Imperial Japanese Army were told was the disgrace of capture by the enemy.

During the postwar years, Nakagawa married one Russian woman, separated from her and then married another.

He has almost forgotten Japanese but remembers the kanji for his family name. He has no clear memory of the characters for his given name.

He said his father’s name was Yoshio and his mother was called Mie. His father was a store owner.

He said his Japanese wife and children were forced to leave Sakhalin before the end of the war. He was told that the ship they were on sank.

“After I was taken prisoner on Sakhalin,” he said in Russian, “I was forced to work in road construction in Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk and in Tumen in Siberia, and shipping lumber. I became sick and was hospitalized in Tumen for a year and seven months.”

Asked why he stayed in Russia even after he was allowed to return to Japan, Nakagawa said, “I had a woman who had already become pregnant. We were married and moved to Uzbekistan.

“My neighbor told me I could find a job in Dagestan and we went there. My wife couldn’t find a job and soon she left Dagestan. That was the last I saw her.

“I came to Kalmykiya in 1976 and found a job managing the water level at a dam.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.